Westport Little League earns No. 1 seed, to face Maine in semifinals Thursday

BRISTOL -- For the second time in four games at the New England regional, Westport Little League saw its pitcher depart early after surrendering two runs in the first inning.

Yet again, the quick deficit ultimately didn't matter.

On the strength of three monster home runs and an eight-run third inning, Westport rolled past Newton, Mass., 10-4 on Wednesday afternoon to finish New England pool play perfect at Breen Field.

"We've kind of lived on the big inning this tournament," said Westport manager Tim Rogers, whose team had posted six-run and five-run innings twice in the regional. "We keep talking about more consistency with the bats and kind of winning every inning, making every at-bat count.

"I've seen some good progress."

Westport -- 4-0 in the New England regional and 16-0 dating back to the start of District 2 pool play -- clinched the region's top seed in the process and will meet Saco, Maine, the No. 4 seed, in Thursday's semifinals at 1 p.m. Maine (1-3) was shut down by Westport 8-0 on Sunday, as Chad Knight and Max Popken combined to pitch a perfect game.

Right-hander Charlie Roof earned the win in relief of Popken on Wednesday, allowing one run on three hits in 2 1/3 innings. Alex Reiner tossed 2 2/3 innings and surrendered one run. With Reiner at 50 pitches -- the limit to stay available for a potential appearance in Saturday's final -- he was removed for Knight, who recorded the final out.

"Given that we only needed one more out, it made sense to just cut (Reiner) off," Rogers said.

Although Westport has established itself as the prohibitive favorite in the semifinals, it doesn't seem to be feeling the pressure that usually comes with that role.

"I think it's from our confidence that we have right now, going into the semifinals knowing that we're in the driver's seat and we pretty much control our destiny right now," shortstop Ricky Offenberg said.

The all-stars pounded out 10 hits, five for extra bases, to eliminate Newton (1-3) from the tournament. Westport remains the region's lone unbeaten -- Vermont and Rhode Island, both 3-1, are the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively -- and has crushed the competition by a combined 39-8.

Westport came into the game with two home runs in its previous three games, but went deep three times Wednesday, accounting for five runs. The last of those three -- a towering three-run shot to center by Harry Azadian that nearly cleared the TV tower -- was the exclamation point on the team's eight-run outburst.

Azadian, who's done most of his damage on the mound in the regional -- he's won twice, allowing two runs over eight innings -- downplayed his mammoth blast afterward.

"I guess it was a good hit, but it was just another hit," he said.

Westport recorded six hits in the fourth, including a two-run triple by Offenberg to the right-center field gap to break a 3-3 tie. Following a wild pitch that allowed Westport to make it 6-3, Matthew Brown connected on a solo homer to left to extend the lead to four.

"I was looking to get a hit," Offenberg said. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard. I haven't been hitting the ball that great."

Knight produced the team's other homer, blasting a pitch from Newton starter Zeke O'Connell to left to knot it 2-2 in the first inning.

Popken started just his second game this summer and exited after just two-third of an inning after allowing two hits. One of those hits was a two-run homer to catcher Brandon Lee.

Newton claimed a 3-2 lead in the third inning on third baseman Matthew Beckles' RBI single.

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NEWTON201 001 -- 4 7 0

WESTPORT208 000 -- 10 10 1

Batteries: N -- Zeke O'Connell (L), Adam Freedman (3), Jackson Danforth (4) and Brandon Lee. W -- Max Popken, Charlie Roof (1, W), Alex Reiner (4), Chad Knight (6) and Matt Stone.

Home runs: N --Lee; W -- Knight, Matthew Brown, Harry Azadian.